Potential of the dual system – examined up to the year 2030

Scenarios for the possible future development of the dual system

To enable statements to be made regarding the possible future development of the dual system and its potential, the Öko-Institut has examined the influence of various relevant situational frameworks in three scenarios extending up to the year 2030. These scenarios for the first time offer a foundation that enables the potential of the dual system to be estimated on a sound basis.

Szenario 1

In Scenario 1, it is postulated that in the year 2030 the same quantity of lightweight packaging (2.5 million tons) will be collected as in 2014, but that by 2030 the present day state of the art in terms of sorting recyclables has been implemented in all of Germany’s sorting plants. This would mean optimum utilization of the entire current potential for material recycling. This scenario features a first, moderate design enhancement of the system.

Szenario 2

In Scenario 2, in addition to the assumption made in Scenario 1 (which is that the present day state of the art is implemented on a broad scale), it is also postulated that the Recyclables Bin (meaning joint collection of packaging and other materials featuring plastics and metal, referred to as “non-packaging made of the same materials”) has been introduced. This would entail a corresponding increase in the quantity collected. In Scenario 2, it is estimated that an additional quantity of seven kilograms of non-packaging made of the same materials per resident and year is collected. This produces a total quantity of 3.1 million tons.

Szenario 3

Scenario 3 is based additionally on the assumption that the collection potential not yet being utilized despite the introduction of the Recyclables Bin will now be tapped to better effect – by a nationwide collection system for lightweight packaging and non-packaging of the same materials, partly to supplement recycling depots. In addition, polluter pays principle based waste charges would have been introduced, also in blocks of flats, and supplemented by intensive waste consultancy. It is assumed that in this way 37.5 kilograms of lightweight packaging per resident and year can be collected from consumers separately from residual waste. This quantity is already being achieved today in about 75 per cent of all counties, and is thus a conservative figure. Moreover, packaging at similar places of origination in the commercial sector would be collected. This would result in a collection quantity totaling four million tons.

In sensitivity analyses, the influence of various foreseeable developments on the dual system is additionally examined, such as increased use of renewable energies. This is because an altered electricity mix will affect the lifecycle assessment of the dual system. Processes that provide electricity thus receive smaller credits when calculating the lifecycle assessment. At the same time, power consumption in those processes that are necessary for treating recyclable fractions from the waste constitutes a less significant factor.

The environmental impact can be significantly lessened still further given a favorable development of the situational framework.

An analysis of the scenarios shows that the nationwide introduction of a joint collection of packaging and non-packaging made of the same materials, and their recovery using the current state of the art, could increase the contribution towards climate protection from the recovery of lightweight packaging by another 74 per cent. This corresponds to 1.4 million additional tons of CO2 equivalents per annum or approximately the quantity of greenhouse gases that would be caused by 385,000 compact class cars in one year. The dual system’s contribution towards climate protection would thus rise to 3.3 million tons of CO2 equivalents per annum. The largest increase in a beneficial contribution is obtained here between Scenarios 1 and 2 and between Scenarios 2 and 3.

With higher recycling targets and an expansion of the quantity collected, the recovery of lightweight packaging, in conjunction with efficient energy recovery from the treatment residues left after material recycling, could even save more than 3.5 million tons of CO2 equivalents a year. If the recycling of paper, cardboard, cartons and glass is additionally factored in, and stable contributions from these fractions towards reducing the environmental impact are postulated, the climate protection contributions up to the year 2030 rise to more than 4.7 million tons of CO2 equivalents per annum.

For the environmental criteria of acidification potential, eutrophication potential, and primary energy requirement, sorting and recovery by the dual system make a definite beneficial contribution towards protecting the natural environment. Over all the environmental criteria involved, Scenario 3 entails the greatest reductions in resource consumption and environmental impact. Purposeful expansion of the dual system would thus go hand in hand with further beneficial ecological effects. Considering that this study’s calculations are based on relatively conservative models, then given purposeful support and an ambitious expansion of the dual system it can be assumed that even greater potential of the existing system can be tapped, e.g. by additional innovations in terms of sorting technology or by even more efficient material treatment.

It also emerges quite clearly that by altering the electricity mix within the framework of the energy transition, the ecological contribution made by material recycling, particularly in comparison with energy recovery, will continue to rise. The waste hierarchy, which rates material recycling more highly than energy recovery, is unequivocally confirmed by this result.

The dual system’s contribution towards resource economy and environmental protection is also clearly discernible for all other environmental categories covered by the lifecycle assessment.

Soil acidification is reduced, the impact attributable to phosphate equivalents, known as terrestrial eutrophication, is substantially reduced, and, in addition, there are savings in terms of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. Recycling is here superior to processes for energy recovery when measured against the totality of all the environmental aspects involved.

Conclusions and recommendations

Purposefully upgrading the dual system

An analysis of these scenarios enables the dual system’s future to be envisaged, and clearly indicates the major potential it offers. Political decisions play a particularly significant role in determining its further development. On the basis of this study’s results, the following approaches would seem especially promising:

  • the introduction of more ambitious recycling targets,
  • the extension of product responsibility to non-packaging made of the same materials,
  • optimizing the collection modalities, e.g. by nationwide introduction of collection systems and a polluter-pays scheme for calculating charges,
  • incentives for using recyclable materials in lightweight packaging (Design4Recycling).

All these steps would contribute towards encouraging material recycling – to the benefit of the natural environment.

Giving fresh impetus to the closed-cycle economy – in Germany and in Europe

The principle of closing cycles and recycling re-usable materials instead of incinerating them is central to the vision of a genuine closed-cycle economy. Its purposeful enhancement should be proactively progressed accordingly. For this purpose, on the European level an ambitious higher-order framework is necessary. Too many recyclables are still being landfilled or incinerated. Additionally, on the German level, further steps will be required for additionally upgrading the proven system and for putting in place the right framework to unlock fresh potential for enhancing climate protection and downsizing the environmental impact involved.